What Astronauts Can Teach Us On Confinement

Astronaut & Scuba Diver

"One thing I learned in my twenty years at NASA is that most problems aren't rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist." - NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (nearly a year in space)

Weightlessness. One of the most frequently used words to describe the sensation we experience when scuba diving. And what do we think of first when discussing weightlessness? That’s right, astronauts!

In case you didn’t know already, astronauts do quite a bit of training in pools to simulate the weightless conditions that space travel presents. Over the years space travel has contributed to our everyday life in so many more ways than you can imagine. Here are a few things that we wouldn’t have without space travel:

  1. Camera phones. In the 1990s a team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) worked to create cameras small enough to fit on spacecraft and with scientific quality. 1/3 of all cameras contain this technology.
  2. LEDs. Red LEDs are being used in space to grow plants and heal humans on Earth. LED technology used by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has contributed to the development of medical devices such as WARP 10.
  3. Athletic shoes. Nike Air trainers wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for suit construction technology developed by NASA. It was a former NASA engineer that first pitched the idea.
  4. Wireless headsets. NASA, being one of the forerunners for advancing communication technology, developed these headsets to allow astronauts to be hands-free without wires” (JPL infographic).

Other contributions to day-to-day life include scratch resistant lenses, CAT scans, land mine removal, foil blankets, water purification systems, dust busters, home insulation, the jaws of life, memory foam, freeze dried food, adjustable smoke detector, ear thermometers, baby formula, artificial limbs, computer mice and the portable computer. For a full visual of the JPL infographic presenting these items click here.

Moving on. As COVID-19 spreads across the globe millions are coming to terms with a new isolated reality. And guess what? Again we can draw lessons from space travel. Whilst learning how to cope with confinement is new to most of us, astronauts are trained specifically to perform in prolonged periods of confinement, 400 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Over the last two weeks or so various space agencies and astronauts have been sharing their tips and tricks on how to get through these days. Below we have bulleted the main takeaways.

"The best antidote for fear is competence - knowing what to do." - Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield (nearly six months aboard the ISS and Soyuz)

FOLLOW THE RULES. Space missions are executed along strict rules and instructions communicated to the astronauts by mission controllers. Hierarchy and responsibilities are clearly defined. Those in leadership positions are expected to lead by example .Astronauts accomplish their missions by listening to those in charge and adhering to protocols. Yet, team members can actively contribute to the leader’s plan too. In light of the COVID-19 outbreak astronauts underline the importance of listening to what scientists and specialists have to say.
STAY HEALTHY. To avoid launching into space sick, astronauts spend the last two weeks before the launch in quarantine. A viral infection in outer space can put the entire mission at risk. Personal hygiene is also very important. Research has shown that the immune system of astronauts is less effective in outer space making them more vulnerable and susceptible to disease. Exercise is another necessity for astronauts. Muscle tissue of astronauts declines over time due to the zero-gravity conditions. Astronauts exercise in outer space on training equipment developed specifically for them. Whilst confined at home it is important for us to maintain a exercise routine.
CREATE A GOOD ATMOSPHERE. Astronauts are confined together in outer space for months. A positive (working) atmosphere is therefore of major importance. Good communication is key to establishing a positive atmosphere. Good communication is about sharing information and feelings freely. That includes admitting your mistakes, as well as debriefing when something goes right. “Good communicators are also effective listeners, which often means re-stating someone’s message to ensure they’re heard.” (Cory Stieg, 2020). Taking care of each other and respecting each other’s backgrounds, opinions and feelings further contributes to a heathy group dynamic.
ENTERTAIN YOURSELF. To last long in isolation and avoid insanity it is important to entertain yourself. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield went as far as recording his own interpretation of Space Oddity of David Bowie in outer space. Click here to see it.
STAY IN TOUCH WITH FAMILY, FRIENDS ... ACQUAINTANCES. Astronauts in the ISS are able to make calls and skype with acquaintances ‘back home’. “The first thing I did when I arrived [in outer space] was make some calls”, comments European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers. “The same is applicable to now. Call that aunt or former colleague. Also consider those that may be home alone”.

"One year ago, launching into space reinforced to me that the most important thing on Earth is the people you love. Today, as we all stay close to home, I'm struck how that still couldn't be more true.” - NASA astronaut Christina Koch (several months in Antarctica and nearly a year on ISS)

This blog has been put together based on the following posts:

Original photo (before astronaut edit): Stachuraphoto.com